Sex has many benefits throughout your lifetime, and overall, the general opinion is that regular, enjoyable sex has health benefits for all. However, a new study shows that depending on whether you’re a man or a woman in your golden years changes where you fall on the health benefit spectrum.
Although there is little clinical data on the health impacts of sexual relationships in older adults, new research gives an intriguing insight. Gender appears to play a significant role in the interplay between sex and health.
Frequent sex in a man’s golden years puts him at higher risk for heart attacks and other cardiovascular problems. However, sex can lower the risk of hypertension in older women. The findings were the result of the first large-scale study of how sex affects heart health in the golden years.
Hui Liu, associate professor of sociology at Michigan State University, set out to investigate any cardiovascular risks or benefits associated with sexual activity. Dr Liu and her team analysed survey data from 2,204 people.
The participants were taken from the National Social Life, Health, and Aging Project; they were aged 57-86 when researchers first collected their data in 2005-06. The team collected a second round of data 5 years later.
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Cardiovascular risk was measured as hypertension, rapid heart rate, elevated C-reactive protein and general cardiovascular events: heart attack, heart failure and stroke.
Older men who had sex at least once a week had a much higher risk of experiencing a cardiovascular event than men who were sexually inactive. The study found no increased risk among women.
“Strikingly, we find that having sex once a week or more puts older men at a risk for experiencing cardiovascular events that is almost two times greater than older men who are sexually inactive,” said Dr Liu. “Moreover, older men who found sex with their partner extremely pleasurable or satisfying had higher risk of cardiovascular events than men who did not feel so.”
“Because older men have more difficulties reaching orgasm for medical or emotional reasons than do their younger counterparts, they may exert themselves to a greater degree of exhaustion and create more stress on their cardiovascular system in order to achieve climax,” explains Dr Liu.
The study also suggests that medication to improve sexual function could have a negative effect on the cardiovascular health of older men.
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While women appear to benefit particularly from an active sex life in later years, this could be because they’re more receptive than men to strong, deep and close relationships as an important source of social and emotional support, the scientists suggest.
This “may reduce stress and promote psychological well-being and, in turn, cardiovascular health,” they conclude.
The study is published in the Journal of Health and Social Behavior.
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